The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

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Speaker 1: When Dalia Hatuqa was a little girl, she thought she knew who Shireen Abu Eclat was, mostly because Shireen was on TV all the time. Reporting for Al Jazeera, Dalia grew up in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Night after night, Dalia would click on the news and there Shireen would be.

Speaker 2: Like, I think every maybe almost every single like Arab person or person from the Middle East, like grew up watching her for decades. It just felt like every girl wanted to be her. For most Arabs, Palestine is not some place that’s accessible, you know, like Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock and loves the mosque. These places aren’t accessible, but people love these places. They’re important to them, like whether they’re Muslim or Christian or or anything. And so Shereen kind of brought Palestine to everybody’s home. She kind of filled their living rooms with all these stories and helped them be in Palestine, so to speak.

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Speaker 1: Dalia says the Shireen she grew up with the on camera Shireen was empathetic but serious, cool, collected.

Speaker 2: And so as soon as I met her, I was like, Oh, wow, no, this girl is totally different.

Speaker 1: She surprised you?

Speaker 2: Oh, definitely.

Speaker 1: They met in Al-Jazeera’s D.C. bureau after watching Shireen on TV for so many years. Dalia had become a journalist herself.

Speaker 2: She wasn’t a diva, even though she was a media darling. If that makes sense, she’s always laughing. Her laughter is infectious. Very much different from her demeanor on camera.

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Speaker 1: Can you give me an example? Like, is there something she said to you? We’re like, Oh, this one’s got a sense of humor.

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Speaker 2: Honestly, I don’t want to share it because it’s like quite, you know, rated R.

Speaker 1: This is the Shireen Dalia is trying to hold on to these days. The Shireen, who is unafraid of a dirty joke, the Shireen who she went shopping with instead of the Shireen who’s become infamous for the way she died.

Speaker 3: The honest voice never dies. That’s what people were chanting after Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akello was killed on assignment in the West Bank this week.

Speaker 4: Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen, was known across the Middle East for her coverage on Al-Jazeera tonight. Her employer says she was assassinated in cold blood by Israeli forces, citing eyewitness accounts from her crew. While Israel’s defense minister saying it’s still unclear if she was killed by an Israeli or Palestinian.

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Speaker 1: When was the last time you saw or spoke with Cherien?

Speaker 2: So I was supposed to see her in May. I went to Ramallah and she wrote me and she’s like, I really want to see you. And I said, Yes, of course. Like, I’m going to see you for sure. And things got crazy. I was working a lot. My kid was with me and and I didn’t. And I regret that so much. Like, I think about that night and I just say, that’s on you. You could have made the time and you didn’t.

Speaker 2: And it just it hurts. You know, Al-Jazeera announced that she had died and a part of me still doesn’t get it. There are moments where I’m like, oh, I’ll go back to Ramallah and I’ll I’ll I’ll call her up and I’ll hang out or something, you know, something entirely ridiculous.

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Speaker 1: Today on the show, trying to make sense of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen, a journalist, and for Palestinians, an icon. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to What Next? Stick around. I want to lay out a little bit, if you will, with me how Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, and also just some key events that followed her her death. The morning of May 11th, Shereen was with a producer from Al Jazeera. They were covering a raid in the Palestinian city of Janine in the occupied West Bank. Why was she there? Like what was happening?

Speaker 2: So basically she was on assignment. She was covering this raid on a refugee camp, like you said.

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Speaker 1: I read that her boss actually said the story may be too small for you to go.

Speaker 2: It wasn’t her boss. I think it was one of the producers. And, you know, he was saying maybe we should send someone else or. The thing is, she never felt like the story was, you know, too small for her. But Shereen was wearing a vest that said, Press on it. She was wearing a helmet. She always did. I’ll be frank. She was, like, way more diligent about that than I ever was.

Speaker 1: Like, she wore that in places where you thought, we don’t need that here.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And then the shot came through the back of her head. So, you know, she she didn’t stand a chance. She didn’t have time to take cover or to duck.

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Speaker 1: It hit such a small area. Just the uncovered portion between the helmet and the vest in the back of her neck, which is so. Insane because it’s it’s such a small area.

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Speaker 2: From a journalistic point of view, the way I see it is that like only an experienced shooter could have made a shot like that, you know? And at the beginning when this happened, Israeli authorities said that, you know, Palestinian fighters were responsible for her death. And then, you know, they circulated this video of Palestinian men shooting down an alleyway.

Speaker 1: Was that anywhere near where Shereen was?

Speaker 2: It wasn’t. And researchers from the renowned Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found the spot where this clip was filmed. It was 300 meters away with no line of sight to the place where shooting was killed. So unless Palestinian bullets can turn corners and climb stairs, the video that Israeli authorities circulated of these men shooting down an alleyway had nothing to do with it. And after B’Tselem came out, you know, and said this, the Israelis retracted. And then, you know, it kind of developed into this thing about, oh, we can’t do a probe unless we have the bullet that struck her, which the Palestinian Authority has, because, you know, they they removed the fragment of the bullet from her head. And, you know, they did their own probe. But now the Israelis are saying, you know, we can’t do a probe because we don’t have the bullet.

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Speaker 1: I think it’s important to highlight that it wasn’t just the Israeli military saying, oh, it was Palestinians who who shot her. The Israeli prime minister suggested that she was killed by armed Palestinians. And, you know, later in the day, there was back and forth about it. But right away, the Israeli response was, it wasn’t us. And then things began to change a little bit. But then, as you said, the question was, well, if we don’t have the bullet, we can’t really confirm anything.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, the the thing is, for those of us who have covered the, you know, the Palestinian territories for very long, I mean, I’ve personally been covering it since 2002. This isn’t new. Every time a Palestinian is killed or in this case, a Palestinian American, you know, which brings more heat on the Israeli authorities. They immediately try to blame it on Palestinians. And then they switched the story and they said, oh, it’s because we don’t have a bullet.

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Speaker 1: Before we get too far. I want to talk about what happened immediately after Sharon’s death, because two days later in Jerusalem, mourners were carrying her coffin, walking it by foot to her funeral, and they were beaten by Israeli riot police.

Speaker 2: So basically, Shirin was her body or her casket was in St Joseph’s Hospital. It was supposed to leave St Joseph’s Hospital in East Jerusalem and be taken to the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Old City. For people in Jerusalem, but also in all of Palestine, shooting was one of us. And so people wanted to carry her coffin, and they got attacked by police.

Speaker 5: In an apparent effort to force the procession to take place by car.

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Speaker 2: Israeli police charged at the crowd, Israeli police, they fired tear gas and stun grenades at the huge assembly of mourners. They beat up the pallbearers, which honestly, as as soon as I watched that, like, my heart broke into a million pieces.

Speaker 1: Because they dropped the coffin a bit.

Speaker 2: It almost tipped over. But the guys were getting who were carrying her were getting beaten up, but they wouldn’t let her go. And it just it just showed the amount of, like, emotion and and love and respect that they had for her. You could see from the footage that the Israeli police was going berserk at the sight of every Palestinian flag. You know, they even forcibly removed one from the hearse. Israeli police said in the statement stones.

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Speaker 5: And other objects were thrown and their officers acted to disperse what they called the rioters.

Speaker 2: The shocking images, like they weren’t just shocking to us. They were shocking to people around the world. I’ve never seen anybody beat up pallbearers at someone’s funeral. We have all seen those images. They’re obviously deeply.

Speaker 1: Disturbing.

Speaker 6: The European Union is appalled by the events that took place during the funeral procession. The EU condemned this disproportionate use of force.

Speaker 2: And it just it just made people feel like, you know, shooting. They tried to stop her in in her life and they tried to kind of like disrespect her and her death as well. At least that’s how I felt.

Speaker 1: We’ll be right back.

Speaker 1: In the days and weeks following Shireen Abu Aquas death, three big media teams have investigated the way she was killed. Bellingcat, the open source investigative journalism website, used photos, video and statements from eyewitnesses and said the evidence suggested targeting rather than a spray of bullets aimed at an object or person. CNN released an investigation to using video and photos and help from weapons experts. They concluded that Abu Akleh was killed in a targeted attack by Israeli forces. Even more recently, the Associated Press independently said the same. Meanwhile, the Israeli military insists that they need the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to determine how she was killed. Palestinian authorities say they don’t trust the Israeli officials enough to hand over such a crucial piece of evidence and Dalia Hatuqa. She’s skeptical that Israel wants to get to the bottom of this at all.

Speaker 2: Doing an investigation, the Israeli authorities can totally do one. They can do one by not even doing it on their own. They can bring somebody from Sweden, for all we know. You know, it could be like a third party. So it doesn’t have to be, oh, either the Palestinians or the Israelis. I think it could be an international party of some sort.

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Speaker 1: Yeah, it’s interesting to me because I think it’s interesting to compare the reaction here to the reaction to, say, the death of Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal journalist who was killed in Pakistan 20 odd years ago. In that case, the U.S. sent the FBI to investigate. And I wonder if that could be a possibility here, too.

Speaker 2: Yeah, why wouldn’t that be? I mean, Americans regularly train in Israel, like American, you know, forces, or whether it’s American police. And the amount of money that’s being pumped into Israel by America is astounding. So why not give this American citizen the justice that she deserves and, you know, get someone to be held accountable for her killing? I don’t think Palestinians are children of a lesser God. I think everybody deserves justice and everybody deserves, you know, accountability, irrespective of their nationality.

Speaker 1: Recently, the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has called for an independent investigation into Shireen Abu Ahwaz killing. Had you been advocating for that kind of action and in speaking to people who who might make it happen?

Speaker 2: I’ve been speaking to Shirin family quite a lot. I know that Lincoln had talked to them like I saw the footage of him calling them, and he promised that he would do whatever he can to ensure that investigation is happening. But honestly, like nothing’s happened, it’s been a month. It’s not that hard. There’s footage, there’s eyewitnesses. There’s all kinds of stuff. This isn’t a mystery. And the Americans have made it clear that Israel is an ally, that even after Schilling’s death, they said that, you know, the relationship between the two is ironclad. They used that word and it hurts to hear that because you are favoring an entity over your own citizens. Israel can’t keep getting away with this. Like if one of its soldiers did this, then they need to be punished. The Americans can do so much more.

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Speaker 1: I know Al Jazeera has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Sharon’s death. But I was thinking about it and realizing that neither Israel nor the U.S. is a signatory to the ICC. Does that concern you? Do you think that’s a real legitimate pathway?

Speaker 2: I’m not sure, honestly. I mean, I think if the ICC wants to investigate and there’s an investigator that’s coming in, the Israelis can easily just not let them through. Ultimately, Israel has the upper hand. So whether, you know, her case goes to the ICC or not, it depends on whether they’re willing to cooperate, and I don’t think they are. There was this AFP report.

Speaker 1: Agence France Presse.

Speaker 2: Yes, that I saw a few weeks ago. And it said that since the year 2000, you know, close to when the intifada started, no Israeli soldier has been held accountable for the death of any journalist, any journalist that was killed.

Speaker 1: In the last three decades. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that at least 19 reporters have been killed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. I’m wondering if I can ask you as a journalist to talk about the news coverage of Sharon’s death, because it seems to me over the last month there was an initial surge of stories. And now, you know, there’s less momentum. And I know that some Palestinian journalists especially have basically accused the Western media of having a blind spot when it comes to Palestinian pain. Do you agree with that?

Speaker 2: Of course, they have a blind spot. I mean, did you know that today there was, you know, a man, Palestinian man in his twenties who was killed? I don’t think you knew. I don’t think anybody knew because these every single day, almost on average, there is a Palestinian man or kid or, you know, woman that gets killed and it does not make any news. And then when Israelis are killed, we hear about it instantly.

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Speaker 2: But here, here’s what I need to say. I don’t want anybody to be killed. I don’t think anybody should be killed. I think, you know, there needs to be a solution. And in my mind, I know what that solution is. Many people might not agree, but ultimately what happens is that Palestinian lives don’t matter to a lot of, you know, the Western media, and they matter only in so much as they are relevant to Israeli lives or, you know, in shootings case because she was American. So there always has to be a caveat, you know?

Speaker 1: Yeah. I was reading the work of another Palestinian American journalist. She was writing in The Atlantic. And she talked about how being in her position felt especially dark, looking at Shireen death because she felt like she couldn’t trust her own government to protect her if something happened to her because she was looking at how Americans had responded, especially the American government. She said, No one’s rushing in to mediate this. It’s just kind of everyone for themselves. And I wondered if you felt like that, too.

Speaker 2: I do feel that way. I feel a darkness. I feel a sadness. I feel like, what is the point of this? You know?

Speaker 1: I think part of what some people’s response to Shireen death might be is that it seems so wild that Israeli soldiers would target a journalist. Because you ask yourself why? What’s the point of that? They’re clearly in a press. They have the press sign on them. They have a home. Like, why are you targeting them? And I wonder what you would say to someone who has questions like that.

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Speaker 2: I would say because they can and because they have done so in the past and they’ve gotten away with it and they’re going to get away with it this time around, too. And we’ve just lost our friend and our colleague and, you know, someone who was who was so beautiful. And they’re going to get away with it because they can. I mean, I can tell you 1001 stories from the Intifada years where I know people who lost their parents, you know, their parents were just sitting at a balcony and some Israeli soldier just, you know, went by and shot them and they died.

Speaker 1: This was in the early 2000s.

Speaker 2: Yes. This was like in 2002. And it had been happened in Nablus. And I still remember because that’s the kind of heartedness that stays in your mind. Because they can. Because when you put 18 year olds with guns and you tell them these people are bad, something happens. You know, they can be trigger happy, they can be whatever and mix that with hormones and and racism. And I mean, I don’t have an explanation because I’ve never held a gun. But, you know, people do bad things sometimes. And if they know they can get away with it, they, you know, they do it and they they get away with it.

Speaker 1: Is there anything else you want to say or make sure we know about Cherien and her life and what happened?

Speaker 2: I just want people to remember her as funny as someone who loved to shop and party and she had a sweet tooth. I rarely saw her sad or upset, even though she had lost her mom and dad at a younger age. And she covered so many tragedies. But her smile was constantly there. You know, covering Palestine is, you know, it’s kind of depressing. But she was such a free spirit. And covering Israeli human rights abuses never broke her. And it never stopped her from appreciating and enjoying life. And I just wish that she was still around to appreciate and enjoy life.

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Speaker 1: Dalia Hatuqa. Thank you so much for joining me and being so generous with your time.

Speaker 2: Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: If we turn off the recorders or you tell me the dirty joke.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Hold on.

Speaker 1: Dalia Hatuqa is a multimedia journalist specializing in Israeli-Palestinian affairs and regional Middle East issues. In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces have said that while it’s possible an Israeli soldier fired the bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh, quote, no IDF soldier deliberately fired at a journalist. That is the conclusion. And there is no other. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Elaina Schwartz, Carmel Delshad and Mary Wilson. We are getting a ton of support these days from Anna Rubanova and Sam Kim. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine. And I’m Mary Harris. Go find me on Twitter. You can see pictures of my dog and stuff. It’s at Mary’s desk. All right. Thanks for listening. The show will be back in your feeds tomorrow.